Cleat Geeks

Snakes Alive!; Analyzing the D-backs Position Battles In Spring Training

The Diamondbacks Opening Day roster appears largely set. David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, and Yasmany Tomas are the three starters in the outfield, Socrates Brito and Peter O’Brien shouldn’t have much trouble nabbing reserve outfield spots, and both starting corner infielders and at least sixty percent of the starting rotation are penciled in. However, as with all teams, Arizona still isn’t without their fair share of position battles, especially when it comes to the middle infield and the everyday lineup, and what makes these battles all the more complex is that there is no shortage of depth or options. Competition has never been a bad thing, and there is always the likelihood that unexpected injuries and other factors alter the outlook of positions that aren’t currently up for grabs. In this article, I will rank and break down what I perceive to be the three biggest position battles for the Diamondbacks entering spring training.

3. The bottom of the rotation
ZackGreinkeArizonaDiamondbacksIntroduceuwyIrVBGxIllZack Grienke, Shelby Miller, and Patrick Corbin are locks of the century for the top three spots. Popular opinion seems to be that Rubby De La Rosa is a lock for the #4 spot and Robbie Ray will be among the competitors for the #5 spot, but I beg to differ. Ray was one of the team’s better pitchers last season, compiling a 3.52 ERA in 23 games, has more upside than De La Rosa, and is left-handed, so – unless he gets hurt or completely collapses in the spring – I don’t see how or why he gets left out of the rotation, which leaves the fifth spot as a stirring battle between De La Rosa, Archie Bradley, newly acquired Tyler Wagner, Zack Godley, and perhaps even top pitching prospect Braden Shipley.bradley_1280_t2dikhe1_rtm4k8ax

This writing projects that Bradley will win the job – or at the very least get the longest look – because he is still one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball and he has to prove that he can fully recover from a line drive he took off his face four starts into his big-league career in 2015, a point up to which he had a 1.80 ERA and WHIP of exactly 1. I wouldn’t entirely count out Godley (3.19 ERA in nine games) or Wagner (2.95 ERA in the minors with the Brewers).

2. The final bullpen spot
bradZieglerIt might surprise you that this unit was one of the Diamondbacks’ strengths in 2015. It finished eighth in baseball and 13th in the NL with a 3.56 ERA, a figure that was approximately one-third of a run lower than 2014, when only two bullpens in all of baseball were worse. The performance of the relievers was even more remarkable when you consider that they had to throw the most innings in the league thanks to a starting rotation that logged only one complete game, registered the second-fewest innings (to Colorado), and was in the bottom five in ERA. That said, there still looked to be room for improvement when the off-season began; the Diamondbacks would do well to add at least one more experienced and veteran arm to either close games or set up for Brad Ziegler, who blew only two saves, allowed opponents to hit just .198 against him, and finished with a 1.85 ERA (his career-low for a full season) despite not entering the 2015 season as the closer.

daniel-hudsonThis question was definitively answered on February 8th, when Arizona agreed to a two-year contract with Tyler Clippard, a 30-year-old who has been one of the most consistent and durable late-inning relievers in the game. He has 53 saves and a 2.88 ERA for his career, and he recorded 19 saves while splitting time between the A’s and Mets in 2015, but he and the Diamondbacks believe he is best suited for the eighth inning, which is where he will be on a full-time basis in 2016. The Clippard signing also allows for Daniel Hudson – a converted starter who had a 3.86 ERA over 64 games as the primary setup man after missing all but nine games in 2012, three games in 2014, and the entirety of 2013 due to two Tommy John surgeries on his elbow – to fill the seventh-inning role. The Diamondbacks were already going in with a stacked rotation (at least on paper) and now should be able to shorten games even more.

Josh-CollmenterThree other bullpen spots are locked in with lefty specialist Andrew Chafin, middle reliever Randall Delgado (another former starter), and long reliever Josh Collmenter (last year’s Opening Day starter), realistically leaving just one spot up for grabs in spring training. A handful of guys, namely 23-year-old Silvino Bracho – who has dominated the minor leagues and looks to be the closer of the future – 31-year-old Matt Reynolds, 25-year-old Matt Koch, 24-year-old Jake Barrett (another potential closer of the future) and 25-year-old Enrique Burgos look to be the main competitors for that role, but my guess is that Bracho and Reynolds emerge as the favorites. I thought Bracho would have a pretty large role in the bullpen before Clippard was signed and Reynolds would be the only other lefy besides Chafin. The Diamondbacks could even surprise us all and sign a free agent lefty; Franklin Morales and Matt Thornton are still available, Reynolds is coming off Tommy John like Hudson, and Chafin had to be rested toward the end of last season because of overwork (66 games and 75 innings). De La Rosa – a 14-game winner who had a rollercoaster 2015 season and should probably end up as a full-time reliever long-term – could also be in this mix.MLB: JUL 31 Diamondbacks at Astros

1. Starting middle infield/bench
NickAhmed2Not only is this the most unpredictable and interesting position battle on the Diamondbacks, it might be the most intriguing in the entire league. There is absolutely no debate about who is playing everyday at first base and – unless he hurts his foot again – I would be shocked if Jake Lamb doesn’t enter Opening Day as the starting third baseman. However, second base and shortstop were already muddied with uncertainty among Phil Gosselin, Brandon Drury, Nick Ahmed, and Chris Owings, the latter two of whom were the everyday players at the two positions last season. Both Ahmed and Owings are excellent defenders, but neither hit much in 2015, Owings in particular. Ahmed hit a mere .140 in April, .184 in August, and .186 in September, and struggled throughout against right-handed pitching (.201 average, .246 on-base percentage).

Chris+Owings+Arizona+DiamondbacksOwings suffered a painful shoulder injury during the 2014 season that he still hasn’t fully recovered from; his .224 batting average and .264 on-base percentage last season were the worst in baseball for qualified, everyday second basemen. It was advised that Arizona scour the market for a clear upgrade for at least one of the positions, and they were linked to such free agents as Ian Desmond and Howie Kendrick at various points. On January 30th, the Diamondbacks finally made a move when they acquired former All-Star Jean Segura from the Brewers, but, on first glance, it doesn’t appear that the trade accomplished anything. Segura hasn’t hit much himself in the last two seasons (.246 BA, .289 OBP in 2014, .257 BA, .281 OBP in 2015) and he’s a lousy defender, but the Diamondbacks are hoping he can rectify his 2013 form, when his 12 HRs, 49 RBIs, and .294 batting average netted him the aforementioned All-Star appearance.JeanSegura

Two certainties that Segura brings to the table are speed and stolen bases (44, 20, and 25 steals, respectively), so he is capable of being the top of the order presence that Arizona has been lacking. Segura’s struggles could also be attributed to the sudden death of his nine month old son in 2014. When all is said and done, I think Segura will bounce back enough to earn the everyday job at second base, Drury – the team’s best hitting prospect – will earn the backup role at that spot, Gosselin will serve in the utility role thanks to his more than respectable .311 batting average and .373 on-base percentage in 106 at-bats after coming over from the Braves and recovering from a thumb injury, as well as his ability to play three infield positions as well as the outfield, and Ahmed will stay at short because his glove at that position is arguably the best around and Segura’s better position defensively is second base. More than anything, I believe that the Segura deal indicates that Owings is in a “now or never” situation, the Diamondbacks see more upside in Segura, and Diamondbacks brass seriously doubts that Owings’ shoulder will ever be the same again.

I could touch on the backup catcher role, but I believe that Chris Hermann is already a virtual lock for the spot. Hermann has versatility (he can play the outfield, as well), Tuffy Gosewisch is still recovering from a severe knee injury that cost him most of his 2015 season, and former rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez is going to be in the minors. Perhaps longshot Gabby Guerrero has such a big spring that he overtakes Brito or O’Brien, but, other than that, the three battles that I went into detail about above are the real ones to keep an eye on from now until the first pitch of the season is thrown on April 4th. The Opening Day roster should look like this:

Starting Lineup
CF A.J. PollockA.J.Pollock
2B Jean Segura
1B Paul Goldschmidt
LF David Peralta
RF Yasmany Tomas
3B Jake Lamb
C Welington Castillo
SS Nick Ahmed

Bench
UT Phil Gossselin
C Chris Hermann
2B Brandon DruryPeter+O+Brien
OF Socrates Brito
OF Peter O’Brien

Starting Rotation
RHP Zack Grienke
LHP Patrick Corbin
RHP Shelby Miller
LHP Robbie Ray
RHP Archie Bradley

Bullpen

Photo by: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Photo by: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Brad Ziegler – closer                                                   RHP Tyler Clippard – setup man
RHP Daniel Hudson
LHP Andrew Chafin
RHP Randall Delgado
RHP Josh Collmenter
RHP Silvino Bracho

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